Archive for March, 2003

Women’s pool update through 58 games

Monday, March 31st, 2003


Two more teams, Villianova and Texas Tech, were eliminated from the women’s NCAA Tournament tonight, and so were two more players, Pat Caplin and Brian Newbold, in The Living Room Times‘s sixth annual NCAA women’s pool.

Newbold is a senior at Villanova, and had picked his Wildcats to win the national championship. Caplin had picked them to reach the title game. Both are now mathematically eliminated from any chance of winning the pool.

Thus, in a tournament whose regional semifinals and finals have thus far held perfectly to the seedings — with four #1 seeds and four #2 seeds reaching the Elite Eight, and now the first two #1 seeds reaching the Final Four — there are just five contestants left alive: three members of pool administrator Brendan Loy’s high-school graduating class, and two of Loy’s girlfriend’s uncles.

Josh Rubin, a graduate student at the University of Maryland who owns the dubious distinction of having participated in the most Times pools without a victory (an honor he shares with high-school classmate Kevin Hauschulz), continues to lead the pool, now with 330 points out of a possible 382. Of the remaining 32 tournament scenarios, Rubin would win in ten — 31 percent.

In second place is Becky Zak’s uncle Rick Boeckler, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, who has 326 points and a 25 percent chance of winning — 8 out of 32 scenarios roll his way. Holding onto third place is Matt Thomsen, the University of New Haven senior who went a perfect 32-for-32 in the first round and led throughout the entire tournament until Texas’s win over Minnesota dropped him into third yesterday. Thomsen would win in 6 out of 32 scenarios, or 19 percent.

Potential winners in four of the 32 scenarios, or 12.5 percent, are Sara Hamilton, a Union College senior, and Larry Caplin, another uncle of Becky Zak. Caplin is in sixth place with 310 points; Hamilton is tied for twelfth with 290.

At least two of the five remaining contesants will be eliminated by tomorrow’s games. But at least two will survive until next weekend, meaning the women’s pool, unlike this year’s men’s pool, will not be decided until at least the Final Four.

If #1 UConn defeats #2 Purdue today, Hamilton will be mathematically eliminated. No one will be eliminated by a Purdue win. But the game between #1 LSU and #2 Texas is guaranteed to eliminate at least two contestants: Boeckler and Thomsen if LSU wins, Rubin and Caplin if Texas wins.

To sum up tomorrow’s pool implications:

If UConn and LSU win: Boeckler, Thomsen, and Hamilton eliminated. Rubin now has a 75% chance of winning; Caplin 25%.
If UConn and Texas win: Rubin, Caplin, and Hamilton eliminated. Boeckler and Thomsen each have a 50% chance of winning.
If Purdue and LSU win: Boeckler and Thomsen eliminated. Rubin has a 50% chance of winning; Caplin 25%, Hamilton 25%.
If Purdue and Texas win: Rubin and Caplin eliminated. Boeckler has a 50% chance of winning; Thomsen 25%, Hamilton 25%.

Thought for the day

Monday, March 31st, 2003

If, tomorrow, George W. Bush had a sudden change of heart about his priorities in the Middle East, decided that he needed above all else to liberate the Palestinian people, concluded that Israel’s Likud government was responsible for countless atrocities against the Palestinians, and therefore issued an ultimatum to Ariel Sharon — dismantle the settlements, disarm your country, and discontinue your anti-Palestinian policies within 48 hours, or face military action — if, hypothetically, this highly unlikely scenario occurred, how would the average “antiwar” protester react?

It’s impossible to prove, of course, but I suspect a fair number would be entirely thrilled. These are the same people, after all, who routinely carry signs that say “Free Palestine” at the same time that they oppose U.S. action to free Iraq. Which raises an interesting question: is it okay for Muslims to oppress other Muslims, but not okay for Jews to oppress Muslims? And if so, why?

Geraldo gets the boot

Monday, March 31st, 2003

The military has kicked Geraldo Rivera out of Iraq. The stated reason is that he gave away operational details. I think the other reason is that he’s Geraldo Rivera.

UPDATE: Or not. The fog of war seems to be setting in here. Geraldo denies he’s leaving; a U.S. Central Command official says, “He is being pulled. He just doesn’t know it yet. He has not gotten the word.”

At least Geraldo is being gracious about the whole episode. Referring to the network that first reported his alleged expulsion, he said, “It sounds like some rats from my former network, NBC, are trying to stab me in the back. … MSNBC is so pathetic a cable news network that they have to do anything they can to attract attention. You can rest assured that whatever they’re saying is a pack of lies.”


CNN Breaking News

Monday, March 31st, 2003

U.S. soldiers fire into van carrying 13 women and children after it fails to stop at checkpoint, Central Command says. Seven found dead, two wounded.

Pool update through 56 women’s games

Sunday, March 30th, 2003


Matt Thomsen may have been perfect in the first round, but Josh Rubin was perfect in the Sweet Sixteen — where each game counts for twice as much — and now he, not Thomsen, has the lead in The Living Room Times‘s sixth annual NCAA women’s pool.

Rubin, a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland, grabbed first place — which Thomsen had held at least a share of since the tournament’s opening tip — when #2-seed Texas beat #6 Minnesota late Sunday. Thomsen, a University of New Haven senior, had picked #3 Stanford, which lost to Minnesota in the second round; Rubin correctly picked the Longhorns. Rubin has 300 points out of a possible 352.

Also picking Texas and moving up in the world was Becky Zak’s uncle Rick Boeckler, another Maryland resident, who has 296 points, four back of Rubin. Thomsen is six behind with 294 points.

Newington High School sophomore Kim Stone, 25-year-old Wisconsin farmer James Peters, and 42-year-old Scottsdale, Arizona resident Richard Simon were eliminated from contention one game earlier, when #1 Louisiana State defeated #5 Louisiana Tech. That leaves a Spectacular Seven contestants still alive to win the pool as the tournament enters the Elite Eight round tomorrow.

Rubin and Boeckler, the two Marylanders, are easily the statistical favories to win the pool. According to a computer analysis of the remaining 128 scenarios, Rubin has a 32.8 percent chance of winning; Boeckler has a 29.7 percent chance. They are also the only candidates who are guaranteed not to be eliminated by tomorrow’s Elite Eight games.

The five others still alive are Thomsen (7.0 percent), sixth-place Larry Caplin (6.2 percent), ninth-place Sara Hamilton (10.9 percent), 20th-place Brian Newbold (9.4 percent), and 23rd-place Pat Caplin (3.9 percent). Tomorrow’s Elite Eight games, #1 Tennessee vs. #2 Villanova and #1 Duke vs. #2 Texas Tech, will result in between one and four of them being mathematically eliminated. A victory by Tennessee would eliminate Newbold and Pat Caplin, while a Villanova win would eliminate Larry Caplin. A win by Duke would not eliminate anyone, but a Texas Tech victory would knock Thomsen and Hamilton out of contention.

The pool is shaping up as a battle between pool administrator Brendan Loy’s high-school graduating class and his girlfriend’s extended family. Rubin, Thomsen, Hamilton, and Newbold are all members of the Newington High School Class of 1999, which has produced the winner of 11 of the 13 pools in Times history; Boeckler is one of Becky Zak’s uncles, and husband-and-wife duo Larry and Pat Caplin are her uncle and aunt.

(Hamilton and Newbold are presently seniors at Union College and Villanova University, respectively.)

Here are the remaining picks of the seven players who still have a chance to win. The first four teams listed are their Final Four picks (worth 15 points each); the next two are their finalists (20 points each); and the last team is their pick for national champion (25 points). Teams that have already been eliminated have a line through their name.

Rubin (300) – Tennessee, Duke, UConn, LSU / Tennessee, UConn / UConn
Boeckler (296) – Tennessee, Duke, UConn, Texas / Tennessee, UConn / UConn
Thomsen (294) – Tennessee, Duke, UConn, Stanford / Duke, UConn / UConn
L. Caplin (280) – Tennessee, Duke, UConn, LSU / Tennessee, UConn / Tennessee
Hamilton (275) – Villanova, Duke, Purdue, Stanford / Duke, Stanford / Duke
Newbold (248) – Villanova, Duke, Purdue, Texas / Villanova, Purdue / Villanova
P. Caplin (242) – Villanova, Miss. St., Purdue, Ohio St. / Villanova, Purdue / Purdue

Summing up tomorrow’s pool implications:

If Tennessee and Duke win: P. Caplin, Newbold eliminated
If Tennessee and Texas Tech win: Thomsen, Hamilton, Newbold, P. Caplin eliminated
If Villanova and Duke win: L. Caplin eliminated
If Villanova and Texas Tech win: Thomsen, Hamilton, L. Caplin eliminated

Final Becky flight update

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

I got a cell-phone call from Becky. She’s at LAX, waiting for her shuttle.

Toby, true to form, is resting, perhaps getting herself ready to enthusiastically welcome Becky home.

Becky flight update #4

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Becky’s flight is one mile southwest of LAX, at an altitude of 300 feet, travelling at 171 miles per hour. At least, it was at last check. By now, I’m sure it’s landed.

Becky flight update #3

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Becky has entered California, and is now about 20 minutes out of L.A. Hooray!

Becky flight update #2

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Becky’s flight just passed over Kansas City. She’s moving west at 493 mph, at an altitude of 39,000 feet.

Pool update through 59 men’s games, 54 women’s games

Sunday, March 30th, 2003


Toby Zak, the only non-human contestant in The Living Room Times‘s NCAA pools, was mathematically eliminated from winning the women’s pool when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish lost this afternoon. This occurred even as Toby’s owner, Becky Zak, was on a plane flying back to Los Angeles from Notre Dame, where she visited the graduate school over the weekend.

#2-seed Purdue defeated #11 Notre Dame, 66-47. Toby had picked the #3 Kansas State Wildcats, who were eliminated by Notre Dame last week, but she needed Purdue to lose today so that other contestants in the pool would not gain points.

Toby, a domestic shorthair cat, made her picks by choosing teams with cat nicknames to win, and teams with dog nicknames to lose. When two cat teams or two dog teams were slated to play each other, Toby picked the higher seed. When neither cats nor dogs were involved in a game, Becky helped Toby make a decision about who to pick. (Becky described this as a “collective effort.” Toby was heard to comment agreeably, “Meow.”)

Prior to the Purdue-Notre Dame game, a computer analysis showed that Toby would win the pool in just one of 1,024 remaining tournament scenarios. That scenario involved, among other things, a Notre Dame victory today.

Toby was reportedly sleeping on Becky’s chair during Notre Dame’s loss. Informed of her elimination, Toby reportedly stood up briefly, stretched, yawned, and then resumed sleeping.

Depending on how the remainder of the tournament goes, Toby, presently in 33rd, could finish as high as third place. If nothing else, however, she can take solace in her thorough drubbing of Saddam Hussein.

The ten contestants still alive in the women’s pool, all human, are Matt Thomsen, Richard Simon, Rick Boeckler, Josh Rubin, Brian Newbold, Larry Caplin, Sara Hamilton, Pat Caplin, James Peters, and Kim Stone.

In addition to eliminating Toby, Purdue’s win boosted Rubin from third place into second, just four points behind leader Thomsen, because both Thomsen and the previous second-place contestant, Boeckler, had picked Kansas State, whereas Rubin correctly picked the Boilermakers.

Rubin now also has the statistical edge in terms of his probability of winning the pool. He would win in 125 of the remaining 512 scenarios, or 24.4 percent; Thomsen would win in 113, or 22.1 percent.

On the other side of the Living Room Times pool coin, men’s winner Justin Vale may yet break the record for most points in a men’s pool, but he won’t surpass the all-time record for points in any Living Room Times pool — 409, set by Jenn Castelhano in last year’s women’s pool. Syracuse’s 63-47 victory over Oklahoma this afternoon guaranteed that. Vale had picked the Sooners; his maximum possible point total is down from 412 to 397.

Vale, who presently has 317 points, could still break the men’s pool record of 354 points, set by Lou Ruggiero in 1996. He picked Texas to reach the Final Four (worth 15 points if it happens), Kansas and Texas to play in the title game (20 points each), and Kansas to win the championship (25 points).

Choice of words

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

The New York Times yesterday ran a front-page story about the explosion in Baghdad that killed perhaps 50 or more Iraqi civilians. The headline: “Iraq Says Blast in Baghdad Kills Dozens of Civilians; U.S. Blamed.” What I find interesting is the use of the vague passive-voice phrase “U.S. Blamed.” The Times acknowledges in the fourth paragraph that “it was impossible to determine the cause.” The Iraqis are blaming the U.S., yes, but the Iraqis always blame the U.S. for everything. Objective blame has yet to be assessed, as the Times itself acknowledges.

But instead of saying “Iraq Says Blast in Baghdad Kills Dozens of Civilians, Blames U.S.” or “Iraq Blames U.S. for Blast in Baghdad that Kills Dozens of Civilians,” the Times chose to say “U.S. Blamed” without bothering to indicate in the headline who was doing the “blaming.” Interesting.

Becky flight update

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Becky’s flight from South Bend to St. Louis landed 44 minutes ago, at 2:19 PM Central time (12:19 PM Pacific time). Her flight from St. Louis to Los Angeles is due to take off at 3:47 Central (1:47 Pacific). Track it!

CNN Breaking News

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

A coalition helicopter crashes in southern Iraq Sunday killing 3, injuring 1, according to U.S. Central Command.

Pool update through 53 women’s games

Sunday, March 30th, 2003


In his four years as a student at the University of Southern California, pool administrator Brendan Loy has run seven NCAA prediction contests — four men’s pools and three women’s pools. In each case, he has invited many of his fellow USC students to join the pools, and quite a few have done so.

But never once has a USC student won a Living Room Times pool. Mike Wiser came the closest, just barely losing the 2001 women’s pool, which was decided by a second-half comeback in the national championship game. But, somewhat ironically for the university that has produced the most national champions in NCAA history, no student has managed to finish first in a Times pool.

Now it’s official: Loy will graduate from USC before seeing a fellow Trojan win one of his pools.

Nick Sowers, the last USC student who had a chance to win the women’s pool, was mathematically eliminated last night when #2-seed Texas Tech defeated #6 New Mexico in the 52nd game of the women’s tournament. That happened a few hours after Connecticut high-school student Justin Vale clinched the men’s pool, eliminating, among others, Mike Wiser, who had been the last USC student alive in that pool.

Texas Tech’s win also eliminated Ryan McBride, a member of Loy’s high school graduating class (Newington High, 1999) and a Northeastern University senior, from any hope of winning the women’s pool. McBride had picked New Mexico to win the game; Sowers had picked already-eliminated Mississippi State, and so needed Texas Tech to lose in order to prevent others from gaining points.

There are now 11 contestants still owning a mathematical chance to win the pool. They range from Matt Thomsen, who has led the pool from the beginning and who would win in 273 of the 1,024 remaining scenarios, to Toby Zak, the cat, who is presently 33rd out of 40 and would win in only one scenario out of 1,024.

Thomsen has 284 points out of a maximum possible 322 so far, and a 26.7 percent chance of winning, according to a computer analysis of the scenarios. Rick Boeckler is in second place with 276 points, eight back, and a 19.1 percent chance of winning. Josh Rubin is 12 points behind Thomsen in third place with 270 points, and a 19.9 percent chance of victory.

James Dixon, is fourth place with 267 points, has already been mathematically eliminated, as has Matt Kagan, in sixth with 262. Richard Simon, in fifth place with 264, could still win, as could Sara Hamilton (seventh place; 255 points), James Peters (eighth; 253), Larry Caplin (tied for ninth; 250), Kim Stone (13th; 245), Brian Newbold (21st; 228), Pat Caplin (26th; 222), and Toby Zak (33rd; 198). All of their percentage chances of winning are in the single-digits.

Four of the eleven remaining contestants graduated in the Newington High School Class of 1999, whose members had won every pool since 1997 until Vale clinched the men’s pool yesterday; one is a current student at Newington High; four are family members or pets of Loy’s girlfriend, Becky Zak; and two are people with no personal connection to Loy who entered the pool over the Internet.

An apt phrase, and some less apt ones

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Roger Franklin from Australia’s The Age says America is making war “on a butcher’s Baghdad, on terror, and on cultists who worship not Allah but death itself.” I like that. Good description.

Meanwhile, some stupid liberal writing for The Age thinks people who criticize him are censoring him; thinks a targeted bombing campaign that has killed a remarkably small number of civilians is the same thing as “unrestrained slaughter”; and thinks that the U.N.’s disarmament of Iraq was — get this — an unrestrained success! “When the job,” meaning disarmament, “was done, (Bush) was ready to go to war against a defenceless nation.” The job was done??? A defenceless nation??? Wow, you know what I would say if I could meet this guy? I think it would be something along the lines of, “You are an arrogant, uneducated ass.”

He also offers this lovely sentiment: “My guess is that what the average anti-war protester wants is for every Australian gun to jam in the dust; every tank grind to a halt with sand in its gears; every aeroplane to be grounded by a great haboob, so that they can neither kill nor be killed.” Neither kill nor be killed??? Yeah, because surely if the Australians or other Allies were rendered defenseless, they wouldn’t be killed by Iraqis. Of course not.